Volume 74, Number 14 | August 04 - 10 , 2004


Alarms, Aguilera and agita at 3 a.m.

By Heather Paster

Adjusting to life in New York City and specifically the Village has been full of surprises, challenges and modifications to my routine.

Having grown up on the beach, I am a huge fan of fresh air. But in Manhattan, I will settle for air in my apartment that has not been circulating for hours on end — because immediately upon opening my window, I am bombarded with an array of noises that rotate throughout the day and night.

I now classify the noises into daytime and nighttime distractions. While I don’t appreciate the noise at any time, evening noises are naturally more disruptive and potent, as they permeate through the windowpanes and seemingly through the very brick walls of my building to creep past my earplugs.

Like many New Yorkers, I feel bombarded by the bass pumping from cars at all hours, sirens and car alarms. Car alarms prevent few thefts, however, and are not effective. The only people apparently affected by the alarms’ piercing whoops and bleeps are neighborhood residents.

There was one incident at the place I lived before where I heard a car alarm in the evening that sounded like the one on my car. Thinking it was one of the neighborhood kids accidentally bouncing a soccer ball off my hood when he should be asleep, I didn’t check on it. The next morning I discovered someone had jimmied open my car and stolen my CDs. After hearing stories of people murdered and cut up for jackets, sneakers and dirty looks, I know it is much easier to replace a Coldplay CD than a limb. Thus, even when a car alarm is doing its job, I don’t respond.

However, there is one car alarm in my neighborhood that does serve its purpose. Every morning without fail at 5:30 a.m., the alarm resounds through my apartment. I am not sure if or how it deters passersby, but it definitely wakes me up more effectively than my Bose alarm. Of course, that it goes through a minimum of two alarm cycles certainly contributes to its effectiveness.

Then there was one night that was relatively noise-free — until a transvestite decided to grace me with a terrible rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Had it been in key I would have felt more sympathetic, but the judges of “American Idol” would not have been very patient. After the painful chorus, during which I was certain one of my bathroom mirrors must have shattered, the singer then did the entire song again with more passion, more gusto and less harmony. Despite my earplugs, his determined, bellowing voice kept me awake at 3 a.m.

The daytime noise pales in comparison. A mediocre outdoor reggae concert at the neighborhood school eventually becomes background noise. The ice cream truck with its mesmerizing tunes becomes monotonous. However, its annoyance grows tenfold when it drives around the block and volume fluctuates. More of an annoyance are the screaming children arguing with their parents for the ice cream. On multiple occasions, I have contemplated going downstairs to give children my own money for a cone in exchange for a few moments of silence.

My grandmother embodies the adage that ignorance is bliss. She lives above the subway near Lennox Hill Hospital, but manages to avoid all of the commotion by removing her hearing aid. Well, that’s one advantage to growing old.

I’m becoming immune to the sirens from ambulances and the nearby police station, as they no longer startle me. In a twisted way they reassure me that crime is being prevented or perpetrators caught. I wonder, with Bloomberg’s new noise laws, will police be allowed to use sirens to reprimand those violating the noise-pollution laws?

I’m aware that this is part of the Manhattan experience — exacerbated, of course, by living on the second floor. And consistent with most New Yorkers, I’ve begun to close the window and depend on my air conditioner to drown out some of the noise. Now if only my neighbor’s baby would stop crying.

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